It's week 12 of the 2013 NFL season, which means it's the time in the year where the NFL playoff picture becomes clearer. At least that's the idea. The last four teams to have a bye get their week off this week.
In the AFC who knows what might happen in the playoffs? Right now the Jets and Dolphins are tied as the 6th seed with a 5-5 record while six other teams sit at 4-6. Normally 4-6 doesn't mean you're a threat for the playoffs, but in the AFC it's entirely possible. That's the beauty of the NFL. If you sat there 12 weeks ago and told me that the Jets & Raiders would be better than the Texans & Falcons I would have thought you were crazy. In reality, that's what happens every year. You just never know who might emerge as a surprise team or what Super Bowl contender is going to end up with a top 10 draft pick.
Before we get to this week's games, here are some thoughts on the Thursday night game.
New Orleans 17 - Atlanta 13: That's it? I really could have used that Saints win by 8 or more points since I bet on them. I give credit to the 2-9 Falcons for playing hard and holding the potent Saints offense to just 17 points. Atlanta just isn't good enough offensively to win a game like this. I thought they did a great job of establishing the run early in the game, but then they went away from it and were unable to score another TD. As for Drew Brees, he played an effective game with 278 passing yards and 2 TDs with no picks, yet I expected more from him. That's how great he is. The Saints move to 9-2 and have some extra time to prepare for next Monday night's showdown in Seattle that features the top two teams in the NFC while the Seahawks get the bye week to prepare for it. That should be an incredible game.
Last week straight up: 10-5. Season: 102-60 (.630)
Home teams went 12-3 last week. It doesn't always happen like that, but obviously home field is a significant advantage.
Byes: Buffalo, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Seattle
All game times are in the Eastern time zone.
Pittsburgh (4-6) at Cleveland (4-6) 1:00 pm
I think it's fair to say that the Steelers are underachieving this year, but with wins in four of their last six they're obviously on the right track after that awful 0-4 start. As for the Browns, defensively they're excellent sitting 4th against the pass and 6th against the run. The problem is that offense is just too inconsistent. Their current QB Jason Campbell has been good in small doses, but long term he's not the answer. Teams can figure him out. I think the Steelers are the better team with Ben Roethlisberger playing really well of late and rookie RB Le'Veon Bell giving that offense some balance. Their defense is consistent, but I think they can force the Browns into some mistakes. It won't be a pretty game to watch. Somebody has to win. I'll take the road team. Steelers 20-17
Tampa Bay (2-8) at Detroit (6-4) 1:00 pm
It will be fun to see that Calvin Johnson/Darrell Revis matchup if Tampa realizes how valuable Revis really is. I think the Lions are clearly the better team and since they're leading the division with a home game against an inferior opponent I think they'll play well. The Bucs should be able to move the ball fairly easily against a below average Lions defense, which means they might cover the 9.5 points that the Lions are favored by. Lions 31-24
Minnesota (2-8) at Green Bay (5-5) 1:00 pm
It's hard to like anything about the Vikings other than Adrian Peterson. Obviously he's not having the kind of year he had last year. Part of it is injuries. Part of it is that the players on the field with him just aren't very good. The Packers offense isn't as effective with Scott Tolzien running things, but it's still significantly better than whatever the Vikings are going to trot out there. Look for the Pack to win at home. Packers 27-17
Jacksonville (1-9) at Houston (2-8) 1:00 pm
Terrible game with two bad teams. Texans should win, but after they lost at home to the Raiders a week ago I don't really feel comfortable picking them. Because it's the Jags I will go Texans. If it was anybody else I'd lean the other way. Texans 24-20
N.Y. Jets (5-5) at Baltimore (4-6) 1:00 pm
These are two teams that are tough to figure out. Every time I start to believe that the Jets may be decent they end up playing a crappy game. If you look at their record they have literally gone win-loss-win-loss the whole season. No two game win streak or two game losing streak. That's odd. I can't figure out the Ravens. They're coming off two straight overtime games. This feels like a close game to me. I'll take the Ravens because I expect them to throw the ball a lot against a Jets defense that is #1 against the run and find success doing it. Ravens 23-17
San Diego (4-6) at Kansas City (9-1) 1:00 pm
The Chargers are reeling with three straight losses. With the Chiefs, the worry might be that they are looking ahead to the Denver rematch next week. I think they'll be fine, though. They're a more physical team than the Chargers, they don't turn the ball over and they should be able to make things difficult for Phil Rivers. I'm not sure if I'll pick the Chiefs at home next week against the Broncos, but they're clearly the better team in this game. I think they win comfortably in this one. Chiefs 31-13
Chicago (6-4) at St. Louis (4-6) 1:00 pm
It's McCown vs. Clemens. Exciting backup QB action! Not really. As a Rams fan trust me when I tell you it's incredibly frustrating watching Clemens running the show. The most positive thing about it has been the emergence of rookie RB Zac Stacy, who should have a big game against a bad Bears defense against the run. The Bears can move the ball, so I'm expecting a back and forth type of game. Ultimately I'm going with the home team, but it's really a tough game to call. Rams 27-24
Carolina (7-3) at Miami (5-5) 1:00 pm
Who to go with here? The surging Panthers or the maddeningly inconsistent Dolphins? I'm going with the Panthers. I really like how they're playing on both sides of the ball. They are doing a great job of running the ball and QB Cam Newton has been very effective on converting 3rd downs all year long. He showed it on Monday night against the Pats. Defensively they are great in every facet. They're a complete team on the rise. I can't get a read on the Dolphins. They're just very average at a lot of things. I think the Panthers defense will control the game. Being on the road doesn't matter. They're the better team here. Panthers 23-13
Indianapolis (7-3) at Arizona (6-4) 4:05 pm
This is actually the second best game on the schedule in terms of the records of the teams involved. The Cardinals are tied with the Niners for second place in the NFC West. Who would have predicted that at the start of the year? I think they're legit, though. They're defense is impressive with their #2 ranking against the run and the pass defense is currently at #20, but if you watch them play they do a great job of getting after QBs. They make things tough on opposing offenses. The worry with the Cards is they have an inconsistent run game, plus QB Carson Palmer is sitting there with 15 INTs on the year. Compare that to Andrew Luck, who has just 6 INTs. I like the Colts here. They're 4-1 on the road and they continually find ways to win close games. Colts 24-23
Tennessee (4-6) at Oakland (4-6) 4:05 pm
Fitzpatrick vs. McGloin? It's another backup QB matchup that isn't very interesting to me. Coin flip game. I'll take the Titans even though they've won just one of their last six games. They've lost two close games in a row. This time they'll win one of them. Titans 23-21
Dallas (5-5) at N.Y. Giants (4-6) 4:25 pm
I'm sure the Fox execs love that this is the main late afternoon game because they are two of the most popular teams in the league. They're also very average teams that are underachieving this season. Yes Giants fans, I know your team is streaking with four straight wins that followed the six losses to start the year. The defense has woken up. They're finally looking like the team that I thought would win the division. It's hard to know what you'll get from the Cowboys from week to week. They're inconsistent too. Both know it's a huge game, though, so with that in mind I'll go with the hotter Giants. Giants 27-20
Denver (9-1) at New England (7-3) 8:30 pm
It's rare that I pick against the Broncos because I think they're going to win the Super Bowl. I have yet to pick to them to lose this year. Obviously they lost to the Colts, but I didn't see that coming. I'm actually going with the Patriots here. If any team is going to slow down that Broncos offense, show Manning some different looks and also run some clock by winning the time management game it's the team run by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. This is the 14th time Manning vs. Brady has happened. Who holds the advantage in that matchup? 9-4 Brady. Last year the Pats won this game 31-21. Of course the argument can be made that this is the best team Manning's been a part of. I think it's fair to say that. It's also fair to say that football's a team game, so that head to head record is meaningless. I think there's something to it, though. There is no coach that is better coming up with a plan to face Manning than Belichick. If anybody knows what works and what doesn't it's him.
The reason I like the Pats this week is because they are as healthy as they've been all year. Rob Gronkowski is a force in the middle again, Danny Amendola is on the field (at least for now) and backup RB Shane Vereen is a great weapon in the passing game. In other words, Brady has plenty of weapons to pass to. They could have won that tough game in Carolina last week, but they came up short. The concern in picking the Pats is can they slow down the Broncos enough? It's a maybe. I think scoring won't be a problem for either team. There should be plenty of points on the board. Give me the home underdog. Patriots 31-27
San Francisco (6-4) at Washington (3-7) 8:40 pm (MON)
At the start of the year, Kaepernick vs. Griffin was a very enticing matchup. In the future it likely will be too. Right now? Not so much. Neither guy is playing as well as last year. I think most of us expected Griffin to start slow because of his ACL surgery, but he's shown improvement in terms of being able to run the ball. Washington's also 1st in the NFL in rushing yards thanks to Alfred Morris and Griffin. For whatever reason, they are inconsistent passing the ball and are giving up too many points. Kaepernick doesn't have enough weapons, in my opinion. They're last in the league in passing yards. I think against a poor defense like Washington, the Niners are going to run the ball as much as they possibly can and they defense will hold up to win the game. Don't complicate things, Niners. Run the ball. You're the better team. 49ers 27-23
That's all for me this week. Next week we've got Broncos/Chiefs and Saints/Seahawks on the schedule. Those should be incredible games. Enjoy the games and good luck to you.